Migrants rescued on board Ocean Viking and Alan Kurdi disembarked in Sicily, Italy on Wednesday, December 4 2019 | Photo: MSF
Migrants rescued on board Ocean Viking and Alan Kurdi disembarked in Sicily, Italy on Wednesday, December 4 2019 | Photo: MSF

The Alan Kurdi and Ocean Viking rescue ships were given permission to dock in Italian ports on Wednesday morning and safely offload their 121 passengers. Both ships rescued migrants from the Mediterranean on November 28 and had been waiting for approval to enter a safe port.

On Wednesday morning, 121 migrants rescued by the NGOs Sea-Eye, SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF) were disembarked at the Sicilian ports of Messina and Pozzallo. The permission came around five days after the NGOs had rescued the migrants from the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Libya.

“Finally, the news in the night: Safe Port Messina. It’s over,” tweeted the organization Sea-Eye on December 3 after the news broke. Those on board clapped, chanted “Alan Kurdi, Alan Kurdi” and danced up and down, visibly relieved. The 61 migrants on board the Alan Kurdi were able to disembark the following morning at around 09:30 am.

The second ship, the Ocean Viking with 60 migrants on board, docked at Pozzallo on Wednesday morning. Onboard the ship there was “relief” when the news finally came that those on board would be disembarked in the port in southern Sicily. Hands were raised in the air and smiles spread across the faces of those waiting.

Chronology: Six nights at sea

On Thursday, November 28, the Alan Kurdi had rescued 84 people in total, including three small children and three newborns and 21 women. One of the women rescued was pulled unconscious from the sea. Another is pregnant. One of the newborns was in a critical condition, having had no water or milk for two days. 23 people had been evacuated for medical reasons in the following days.

Both rescues took place in the Libyan search and rescue zone. The crew on board the Alan Kurdi were initially told to take those rescued to the port of Tripoli, but they refused. At the beginning of the week, Sea-Eye tweeted that three evacuations had taken place from their boat in 72 hours. “Now, the fifth night at sea begins,” they said on Tuesday.

While waiting for a safe port from EU authorities, the crew on board the Alan Kurdi made several appeals on social media. The director of operations on board is Juan Matias Gil from Argentina. He appealed in English and Italian to the mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, in the hope he could offer the ship a safe port.

Palermo: City of sanctuary

Orlando, who is part of the European network of 'cities of sanctuary' along with Barcelona and Paris, replied soon after that he would offer the ship a safe port. He wrote in his reply in Italian, “Dear Juan, Dear Alan Kurdi crew, Palermo is a welcoming city and its port should always be open. I will ask the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to intervene and guarantee immediate disembarkation in Palermo for the migrants on board who find themselves in this emergency.”

On board the Ocean Viking it was a similar story. “60 survivors are waiting for a port of disembarkation, five days after having been rescued in international waters off Libya,” read a press release on December 3 from SOS Mediteranée, the private rescue organization which runs the Ocean Viking together with Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

'In limbo as winter sets in'

The stand-off was much shorter than before the summer, but SOS Mediteranée accused European countries of leaving the rescued migrants “in limbo as winter sets in.”

The crew on the Ocean Viking reported that the 60 people they rescued on November 28 were in “an unstable wooden boat in distress 60 nautical miles from the coast of Libya. 19 minors were on board, “including a three-month-old baby and his three-year-old brother. 17 minors are unaccompanied.”

The medical team had to treat several of those rescued “for recent and significant traumatic injuries, reportedly sustained in Libya.” The press release from SOS Mediterranée said the migrants on board mostly needed injections to prevent persistent vomiting due to seasickness. The Ocean Viking said they had received no reply from the Libyan Joint Rescue Coordination Center (LYJRCC) on November 29 and had sent a new request to both the Italian and Maltese RCCs.

'Prolonging needless suffering'

Nicholas Romaniuk from SOS Mediterranée, the Search and Rescue Coordinator on board the Ocean Viking said in a statement that the wait was “unnecessarily prolonging the needless suffering of survivors who have already suffered a lot.”

He again called on European leaders to find a “predicatable mechanism of disembarkation,” saying that the methods discussed “several times over the past months,” have yet to be implemented.

After disembarkation on December 4, the organization Sea-Eye asked once again why it had taken "so long" for European countries to come to an agreement despite an "alleged agreement for distribution."


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